Jill Filipovic: Universities and blogs do students no favors by pretending that every piece of offensive content comes with a warning sign
I think this is an interesting debate. A different view by Melissa McEwan at Shakesville is here.
Personally, I think there is merit in both articles, and a possible practical middle ground to be found in the area of university courses. I agree with Jill that announcing at the beginning of Mrs Dalloway or the Great Gatsby the obvious potential triggers probably will affect students’ reading of the books in a detrimental way. At the same time, having your learning slightly disrupted, or being ‘spoilered’, does not really compare with a post-traumatic stress response to reading about rape, violence etc. That’s a whole lot less fun. Just like being told that ‘this performance will feature a gunshot’ may leave some people waiting for the gunshot that should have been a pivotal twist in the plot, but hopefully no one will have an unexpected panic response (or heart attack) in the middle of a play, and that’s more important.
As Melissa also mentions, film rating systems play a similar role to trigger warnings, and are completely commonplace, so maybe people are making a fuss about nothing. I think that one of Jill’s points, however, shows that film ratings are less gendered that many trigger warnings, which can treat minorities and women as ‘vulnerable’ or emotionally sensitive in a way that white cis men are not.
It also occurred to me that so many courses would just be impossible to teach if potentially triggering material were removed: Classics, for example, featuring all degrees of murder, abuse, incest, rape, infanticide, war. All of these are fundamental to studying most Classical authors.
I think that, if trigger warnings were to be introduced in my University, I would hope they would feature in the first lecture of a course. As Melissa points out, “It took all of two minutes of my time to create that little bit of safety, for which people thanked me afterwards.” Just to say, for example, that various of this course’s texts and subjects may be potentially triggering for students, and that if they were concerned about this, they should feel free to discuss privately with the tutor (who could then point out particular readings/passages to avoid or work through with caution), and of course to be free to leave any lecture at any time without stigma.
Perhaps this still isn’t ideal, because it would involve students identifying themselves to the tutor, but that’s a bigger question. I feel like that general awareness on behalf of teaching staff in my University would be a very positive thing. But trigger warnings on individual books in detail would be detrimental and a step too far for me.